This is the author’s second novel. Once again we are with Constance Kopp, the Sheriff Heath and the Deputies of Bergen County, and of course, Constance’s sisters, Norma and Fleurette. Set in the early twentieth century and based on real characters, these are novels as much about feminism and women’s struggle for equality as they are crime stories.
Lady Cop Makes Trouble, continues on after the events of the author’s previous work, Girl Waits With Gun. Constance is now a member of Sheriff Heath’s staff, though she is yet to be fully inducted as a Deputy. There’s trouble with that in that the authorities are wary of making a woman a deputy and so Sheriff Heath persuades Constance to temporarily take on the role of Woman’s Matron in the Women’s Jail, where she acts as custodian and cares for their needs. All the while he promises to sort things out and get her her Deputy’s badge.
Things take a turn for the worse when a German-speaking conman, Rev. Dr. Baron Herman Albert von Matthesius is arrested. He’s a slippery, wily, eel of a character and soon escapes, unfortunately when Constance is temporarily watching over him. Now it looks like she will never be made deputy. More worryingly, Sheriff Heath might even be jailed for allowing a prisoner to escape from his jail. So off Constance goes, galavanting around New York and New Jersey in a quest to redeem herself, save Sheriff Heath from gaol, and capture their runaway fugitive.
As with the previous book, Lady Cop Makes Trouble is kind of a cosy mystery. But that does the book a disservice. While this isn’t noir or gritty crime thriller of the sort that, say, James Ellroy might produce, it doesn’t shy away from the unpalatability of life at the time. Re. von Matthesius was running a scam where he took rich patients into a sanitarium and made them sick in order to extract more money out of their relatives. While nothing is ever spelt out, there’s the unmistakable hint of sexual abuse about the affair. Similarly, Constance comes across the poverty of the time, one of her potential witnesses being a young boy, who’s mother is ridden with cancer from a life working in a tannery. But it’s the subtle yet pernicious sexism with which Constance has to constantly battle which really marks this out as different from other novels. Constance even meets it when conversing with other women and it’s difficult not to pull one’s hair out in frustration at the obstinance women had to face.
This is a great read, a cosy novel for snuggling up with, but one with bite. Highly recommended.